The ends of two white, tubular, elliptical lamps hanging in file, suspended in black strings.

Collaborating like clockwork

Students from Swiss design school ECAL/University of Art and Design Lausanne recently developed an exhibition in collaboration with IKEA. Avoiding the temptation for excess, the goal of their project was to make fifty essential pieces of furniture for a basic apartment. We spoke with two of the students to find our more about their experience.

The students began by thinking about the following questions: What really is a basic object? What kind of object is primordial? What would it look like? Do we need new types of objects for our lifestyle? Together as a class, they decided what the fifty objects would be, and then each student was free to make as many design propositions as they wanted.

Together as a class, they decided what the fifty essential objects would be, and then each student was free to make as many design propositions as they wanted.

These ideas were presented to IKEA Design Manager Marcus Engman, Creative Leader Sigridur Heimisdottir and former IKEA designer and lecturer at ECAL, Nicholai Wiig-Hansen. The IKEA team gave the students feedback and had the unenviable task of choosing fifty products to be part of an exhibition at Democratic Design Days in Älmhult. (Read more about that here.) Next task for the students, was to make them. 

Tobias Brunner chose to work with four different teams. His responsibility was to be a connecting link, helping the process move along smoothly, taking crucial decisions when necessary and helping the ideas to come to life. Its was his first experience leading a design process.

A grey and orange cleaning kit.
The Cleaning Kit. All accessories for household maintenance can be stored in one bucket.

Luisa Pietrini worked on not just one product but several products in one, the Cleaning Kit. She was involved in developing the concept and then joined by five classmates to develop the actual prototype. She had to explain, in detail, how they should make it, a great exercise in communication and collaboration, “it was like a little industry” she said. In general, they work individually on projects at ECAL.

It was interesting to create an object like this one because as a designer, we always want to do classic furniture and we don’t think about this kind of basic objects that anyone needs in his house.

The idea behind the Cleaning Kit was that you can put all the accessories for household maintenance in one bucket. The bucket contains a sponge, a brush, a mop, a removable handle to make a broom and a dustpan that can be used as a lid for the kit. The goal was that it should be compact and easy to stow.

Luisa said of the project: “It was very interesting to create an object like this one because as a designer, we always want to do classic furniture, like chairs, shelves, lamps and we don’t think about this kind of basic object that everyone needs in their home. It was a pleasure to work on a product that I did not know not a lot about before.”

Black, slimline armchair standing in a white room.
A Foldable Armchair with a collapsible mechanism that makes it easy to stow away and transport.

The most challenging product Tobias was involved in developing was the Foldable Armchair. A lightweight tubular structure employing comfortable 3D-knitted upholstery. The armchair is designed to fold away, making it easy to transport and stow away when not in use. It was difficult to create a prototype that included a collapsible mechanism. The team struggled with getting the tubes bent to precision. They were given an ultimatum by their teacher, if they couldn’t make it, it wouldn’t be in the exhibition.

Tobias and the team believed in this product, so they didn’t give up. They headed to IKEA and bought an existing metal tube lounge chair, cut it up in pieces and reassembled it to make the final prototype. In order to be foldable, the length of each limb of the chair had to follow an exact mathematical equation. Using a trusty Excel spreadsheet they were able to complete the chair as they had designed it.

Tobias also worked on a Circular Lamp. It is a simple LED lamp system made out of half-circles and straight tube modules. These modules can hook up with a simple bayonet connection, allowing the lamp to be adjusted, easily, to different shapes and sizes. A memorable moment for Tobias was “when we turned on the circular lamp for the first time and you could see that every team member had big sparkling eyes.”

As well as developing prototypes for the exhibition, the students were given a tour of the IKEA Democratic Design Centre in Älmhult and a board-on-frame factory in Poland. One of the products developed by the students is being looked into further for production. 

A group of people standing close together, all wearing safety vests.
Class photo. Students from ÉCAL visiting an IKEA board-on-frame factory in Zbaszynek, Poland. Younès Klouche

Tobias Brunner is a twenty-five-year-old industrial design student from ECAL, a design school in Lausanne, Switzerland. Before taking on the world of design he spent two years working as a graphic designer in New York City. Restoring old motorcycles and mountaineering inspire him. He hopes to set up his own design practice one day.
Luisa Pietrini is twenty-two years old and studying industrial design at ECAL. Luisa wants to design for many different areas, not just furniture; such as medical objects and even floor tiles. She has been building furniture since she was just a child, helping her father build furniture for their home.
ECAL is a university of art and design located in Renens, Switzerland. Enjoying international renown and featured regularly among the world’s top ten universities of art and design, ECAL is directed by Alexis Georgacopoulos. ECAL continuously sets itself new challenges to offer its students solutions to contemporary issues while remaining forward-looking.